The 400-Year Journey: How We Got Where We Are
History Workshop Series addresses the Facing History component of the SHARE Racial Healing Initiative. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent study on how our schools teach American enslavement of Africans and concluded that the topic is being taught without adequate breadth or depth.
Their research shows that high school seniors struggle on even the most basic questions about American enslavement of Africans, that there’s a lack of deep coverage of the history of racism in the classroom, and that textbooks fail to provide comprehensive coverage of slavery and enslaved peoples.
As a result, Americans are unable to draw connections between historical events and the concurrent struggles for racial equality or to contextualize how the world they inhabit was shaped by the institution of slavery and its ideological progeny, white supremacy.
In these videos our goal is to guide participants in drawing those important connections between historical events and how they have led to the ongoing socioeconomic and legal disparities that African Americans face today.
In addition, we will highlight how major African American advancement, from emancipation and reconstruction to the election of the first black president is followed by a backlash that eats away at the progress made.
This lack of understanding of our true history serves as a roadblock to progress in acknowledging and overcoming the harms of white privilege and the recognition of race as a social construct. With this video series, we hope to make some progress in eliminating that roadblock.
Segment 1: Racial slavery takes shape in 17th century Virginia
This segment introduces the overall series, briefly summarizes key features of the transatlantic slave trade, and explains how racial slavery and laws restricting the rights of African-descended people took shape in 17th-century Virginia. Similar processes were at work in other colonies. The segment concludes with a brief overview of the demographics of the English colonies in North America in the mid-18th century.
Segment 2: Creating a “story of race” to justify slavery in the land of the free
After examining the racial ideas of Thomas Jefferson, this segment demonstrates how white Americans used laws, pseudo-scientific speculation, the Christian Bible, and popular culture to construct a narrative in which African-descended people were caricatured as inferior in intellect, morality, work ethic, and the ability to act responsibly as free citizens. The stereotypes constructed in this era were used to justify slavery and have continued to restrict African Americans’ opportunities in American society for generations.
Segment 3: Controlling Black bodies with law and violence after emancipation
Once slavery had been constitutionally abolished, after a brief period of black opportunity, the white power structure used a variety of means to continue the subordination of Black Americans. Between the 1880s and 1910s, violence or the threat of violence restricted African Americans’ access to jobs, education, housing, movement, the vote, and equal protection of the laws. This segment shows how convict leasing, lynching, and large-scale racial pogroms enforced white supremacy in this period. There is some disturbing graphic content.
Segment 4: Migrations of people into and within the United States
This segment addresses early 20th-century migrations of people into and within the United States and examines their impact on ideas and laws about "race." The large influx of southern- and eastern-Europeans between 1890 and 1915 raised questions about the definition of "whiteness," an indefinable category that could determine one’s access to US citizenship. Then, between 1915 and 1960, millions of African Americans left the Jim Crow South—where oppression was at its worst—and entered northern and western American cities. They encountered greater opportunities in these cities for jobs, education, and voting rights, but also faced restrictions in racialized "ghettoes" and a violent backlash from whites seeking to limit Blacks’ exercise of full and equal citizenship rights.
Segment 5: Housing and local real estate practices
The final segment focuses primarily on housing and the way both the US government and local real estate practices maintained racialized ghettoes between the 1930s and 1960s. This prevented Black Americans from enjoying the affordability of suburbanization and the access to decent jobs that came with it. Even after the legal obstacles to fair housing were removed by 1970, subsequent decades saw "white flight" continue to impoverish Black geographical space. These policies kept most African Americans from accessing good jobs and maintained an enormous wealth gap that solidified racialized economic inequities into the 21st century.